Six Ways Bright Young Researchers Will Make Your Life Better

By Paula Reinman

Each year, the Marconi Society is honored to present the Paul Baran Young Scholar award to a small number of promising young researchers who exhibit the exceptional intellectual, creative and entrepreneurial capabilities needed to advance the Internet and communications.

We are always amazed by the quality of the nominations we receive and the nominees for the 2017 awards continue to set an extraordinary standard.  Thanks to the many leading universities and professional associations who helped us get the word out about this opportunity, we were able to consider an incredibly diverse and accomplished set of researchers. Our nominees came from ten countries and four continents. One-third of them were women. Virtually all of them were award-worthy, and narrowing the field was challenging.

Our nominees give us a bird’s eye view into the issues that the best researchers in the world are addressing right now. Some of these issues are on-going and some are new – all are intriguing and consistent with Guglielmo Marconi’s vision of supporting scientific achievements in communications and the Internet that significantly benefit mankind.

Here are six areas that young researchers are focused on to make our lives better:

Building the Wide New World of Wireless

There are nearly as many cell phone subscribers as there are people in the world, and even in landline strongholds like the US, there are now more cell phones than land line phones. This demand and the growing capacity and capability of wireless networks are driving high levels of interest in all things wireless among Young Scholar nominees.

Whether by enabling new wireless applications by breaking Lorentz Reciprocity and removing its limitations, developing ways to better use existing spectrum or creating the metrics and models that show that 5G will work everywhere, young researchers are creating the wireless world that consumers demand.

Delivering on the Internet of Everything Promise

We’ve all heard the numbers before: By 2020, we expect billions of devices to be connected to the network. While it’s predictable that there is plenty of Internet of Things action by young researchers, there are specific areas that pop out.

“Location, location, location” is the mantra in real estate, but it could also be the IoT chant. We expect accurate locations for all people and things in all places, from finding a restaurant to locating a buddy on the battlefield. Young researchers are working to improve efficiency, accuracy and ubiquity of wireless location detection systems.

Others are focused on the IoT infrastructure, including improvements in resource allocation and scheduling algorithms in wireless networks.

And still others are addressing critical security issues that Internet pioneers, including Vint Cerf and Leonard Kleinrock, are consumed with today.

Redefining the Laws of Physics

In 2013, Young Scholar Salvatore Campione was honored for his work in changing the basic physical properties of materials to support new applications in areas ranging from medical diagnostics to solar cells. As he continues this work, we see more young researchers changing the very nature of materials to enable different applications or to overcome fundamental limitations.

This year’s nominees continue this trend through innovative work to use the unique properties of metamaterials in order to manipulate and sculpt electromagnetic fields and design novel devices to support different applications. Some are developing new methods for wave shaping that can be used in many applications from glasses to microscopes to imaging devices in healthcare and optical data communications.

Expanding the limits of learning

By identifying and pushing the boundaries on data processing, young researchers are developing ways to improve deep learning.

These innovations underpin improvements in areas like natural language processing, enabling sophisticated applications to work in low bandwidth environments with simple devices.

Satisfying Our Insatiable Appetite for Bandwidth and Speed

Whether you’re trying to stream the latest episode of Game of Thrones or run a network for any size of business, bandwidth is a universal pain point.

A number of young researchers are working on continued advances in data signal processing (DSP) to meet our infinite demand for bandwidth, including improving the flexibility, speed and reach of access networks and developing fiber optic parametric amplifiers for applications in ultra-high capacity communications systems. Other approaches include addressing the upcoming bandwidth crunch by creating ways to scale information capacity without relying on DSP.

Extending the Infrastructure

Continuing a trend from last year and likely extending into the foreseeable future, there is a focus on augmenting and extending the existing core, long haul, metro and access networks to support the ongoing onslaught of devices and applications.

Techniques to ensure backward compatibility with legacy networks continue to be a hot topic as all network providers look to extend their capital investments.

Other researchers are focused on the optical networks of the future, including new optical plane architectures that allow flexible, low latency and scalable next generation all optical intra data center networks and high performance computing interconnection.

We look forward to honoring the 2017 Marconi Society Paul Baran Young Scholars and cannot wait to see what next year’s nominations bring.

How to Create Tomorrow’s Leaders: Educate Locally to Enrich Globally

By Paula Reinman
Coauthored by Himanshu Asnani

Can you take two seemingly unrelated problems with our current education model and create a new learning approach to address both of them while inspiring society’s next generation of leaders? That should not be too difficult! It’s a challenge happily taken on by Himanshu Asnani, 2015 Marconi Society Young Scholar, Visiting Assistant Professor at IIT Bombay and Co-Founder of social enterprises Shikhya and The Young Socratics.

The two problems that Himanshu is tackling are how to create passion for science and technology among middle and high school students and ways we can provide compelling education options to students in rural areas of developing countries. These statistics highlight the issues he is solving:

  • We are failing to inspire young scientists to pursue science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education in college to fill the many STEM positions that our economy will require. Between 2014 and 2024, the number of STEM jobs in the US will grow 17 percent, as compared with 12 percent for non-STEM jobs. ( Yet nearly 60 percent of the nation’s students who begin high school interested in STEM change their minds by graduation (US News and World Report)
  • At the same time, 4.4B people around the world still do not have the luxury of Internet access and consistently available electricity and, therefore, have no access to education and opportunity to create jobs and value for their communities (Shikhya).

While problems in STEM education and reaching students in the last mile seem like they would be different, Himanshu maintains that a common approach can solve them both. For example, this approach has delivered an 18% improvement in math scores in the small town of Baramunda, India.

It’s About Content and Context

In his work as a scientist and mathematician, as well as a meditation and philosophy instructor, Asnani has met many people who are successful in their lives, yet feel something is missing. The missing piece is often passion and sense of purpose about the way they are spending their time.

This is frequently due to the way they were educated. “Education is usually about information – learning this, retrieving that – whereas inspiration tackles how people can use their intellectual capabilities to be visionary in the way they serve their communities and support others,” says Asnani.

While working in the corporate world, Asnani was constantly drawn back to academia.  Though he loves teaching university students, he says, “I had to do something about STEM education from middle school to high school. That’s where we’re failing. People drop out of sciences at the university level. Their parents may make them take these courses in middle and high school, but they aren’t taught in a way that gives them the passion to pursue science studies or a sense of purpose for the greater good.”

A large part of the problem is that science curriculum is presented in a siloed manner, rather than as the holistic, interconnected reality that it is. This insight about how content and curriculum are presented is also critical in Asnani’s approach to educating students in rural areas of developing countries.

While infrastructure poses a separate challenge in these countries, content is typically available only in English and in a context that is irrelevant for these learners. Asnani applies the same insights for creating compelling content to both situations through two social enterprises designed to educate students locally so they that can enrich the world globally.

The Young Socratics

The Young Socratics uses two strategies to create passion and inspiration for science education. The first is to present the curriculum as a whole. Rather than compartmentalizing subjects such as physics, math and chemistry, the curriculum teaches them in an interconnected way. For instance, understanding how vision works requires integrating optics with geometry and biology.

The second strategy is to foster creativity by empowering students to walk in the footsteps of giants. This involves helping students understand the choices and information that was in front of leading scientists like Aristotle, Galileo and others so that they can experience that historical narrative and take the journey that these innovators took. While the decisions they make may or may not be correct, they experience the process of making the journey.

These approaches come together through experiences like Odyssey, an immersive next-generation science game featuring a young girl who is stranded on a desert island. She writes a journal about what she sees and discovers, allowing players to combine physics, astronomy and other subjects in their learning. While it is early in the game’s lifecycle, initial reviews by parents and teachers in forums such as STEAM are extremely favorable.


As if one startup was not enough, Asnani also co-founded Shikya to bring education to non English-speaking people in developing countries that do not have Internet access or constant electricity. Overcoming limitations in both infrastructure and content, Shikhya now has 32 centers, each serving 35-40 students with battery-powered tablets. Featuring local language curriculum, the math program in Odiya (a language spoken by 44M people in India) alone includes 60,000 interactive practice exercises and 3,000 bite-sized videos. Content is also contextual, meaning that it is in the learners’ language and features people, stories and geographical references that are relevant to the region. Curriculum borrows from the integrated approach developed by the Young Socratics.

Shikhya fosters inspiration as social transformation, providing the education that lets people generate opportunity for themselves and others in their towns. “The best way to change society is through education because education changes hearts,” says Asnani. “Government is slow and bureaucratic. If organizations like Shikhya can scale up, we can bring education to the last mile. When you educate a local population, you inspire local businesses run by the people who understand the local culture. People can bloom wherever they live.”

By creating a world where people can learn in their towns, rather than heading to educational centers to become software engineers, Shikhya and organizations like it can lift up entire villages and the people who live in them. Shikhya is changing lives for students like Sunil Sahoo, a ninth grader who lost his father and now helps his mother and serves as a role model for two younger brothers. With Shikhya’s help, Sunil has now mastered 131 math skills, is an inspiration to his peers and is building skills to succeed in higher education.

“My goal is to make the work that helped me earn the Marconi Society Young Scholar award accessible to younger students to inspire them to take those ideas further. Topics like genomics are so prevalent and we need high school and middle school kids to get excited about those ideas now,” said Asnani.

Marconi Society Names Four 2017 Paul Baran Young Scholars

Cutting edge researchers drive significant advances in machine learning, wireless communications, and network localization and navigation

MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA, September 12, 2017 – The Marconi Society, dedicated to furthering scientific achievements in communications and the Internet, has named four 2017 Paul Baran Young Scholars, honoring them for their outstanding research and academic performance. The four will receive their awards at the Society’s annual awards ceremony in Summit, NJ on October 3, 2017.


Wenhan Dai 2017 Marconi Young ScholarWenhan Dai, a Chinese native who is a Ph.D. candidate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was selected for his work on network localization and navigation (NLN). Dai’s research enables services that touch the lives of many people each day through applications ranging from conveniences like finding an open restaurant nearby to mission-critical search and rescue operations. By solving a challenging problem in localization and navigation – how to prioritize different nodes and measurement links for maximum resource efficiency – Dai’s innovations significantly improve localization and navigation performance, doubling the network lifetime.

“In fact, Wenhan has gone beyond theory by implementing his solution in a real system, and he has demonstrated that node prioritization can significantly improve the efficiency of a localization network,” says Dr. Santiago Mazuelas of Qualcomm Technologies.


Negar ReiskarimianNegar Reiskarimian, an Iranian native who is a fourth-year PhD student at Columbia University, was selected for her work on non-reciprocal microwave components for new wireless communication paradigms. Her research has focused on the fundamental physical principles and the engineering applications of breaking Lorentz Reciprocity, which allows signals to be routed in new ways, enabling new wireless communication applications. Her advisor, Associate Professor Harish Krishnaswamy, calls it “the highest-impact research that I have had the privilege of participating in throughout my career.” The work has garnered nearly $4.5M of research funding from NSF, DARPA and through industrial funding from Qualcomm and Texas Instruments.

A paper on the physical principles behind Reiskarimian’s work was published in Nature Communications, and a full-duplex receiver using her circulator was reported on at IEEE ISSCC 2016 followed by publication in the IEEE Journal of Solid-State Circuits.


2017 Young Scholar Shu SunNYU PhD candidate Shu Sun, also a native of China, was selected for research that focuses on making the case for the viability of 5G millimeter wave (mmWave) communications as the next generation of high capacity wireless communications promising broadband access to people around the world, regardless of location. She was the lead student author of the 2013 seminal paper in the field, based on an analysis of NYU’s massive data sets, called “Millimeter Wave for 5G Cellular: It Will Work.” Sun has also led the 3GPP global standards body to adopt her optional close-in free space model, and developed the world’s first open source channel modeling software, NYUSIM, which accurately recreates difficult-to-take field measurements on a computer and is relied upon by over 8,000 engineers worldwide to understand radio propagation.

“The ability to influence and change the minds of others who are ‘set in their ways’ or bound to legacy thinking is the hallmark of an entrepreneur. Shu Sun has demonstrated her ability to change minds and lead the world to completely new approaches that were once thought impossible or untenable,” said Theodore Rappaport, NYU WIRELESS Founding Director and David Lee / Ernst Weber Professor at NYU, as well as Sun’s PhD advisor and nominator for the award. “Were it not for her intellect and tenacity to attend conferences, work with industry leaders, and continually urge consideration for what she knew and that others had not yet come to accept, we probably would not now be talking about 5G millimeter wave wireless communications.”


2017 Young Scholar Ananda Theertha SureshIndian native Ananda Theertha Suresh, a Google research scientist, was selected for his research focusing on understanding efficient ways to use information, data and communication. As the first in his family to attend college, Suresh’s goal is to deeply understand the fundamental limits of what is possible in data science so that he can develop a set of tools that will make an impact on people who have access to only limited resources.

While a PhD candidate at UC San Diego, he demonstrated why Good-Turing frequency estimation works well and developed improvements to the technique, creating an estimator that works across fields ranging from genetics to ecology to language modeling. At Google Research, his work helps provide sophisticated communications capabilities and applications to people with low bandwidth Internet connections and low-end devices.

According to Dr. Michael D. Riley, Principal Research Scientist and Manager at Google Research, “Ananda’s research has already led to algorithms that give better compression for a given decompression time budget than we have previously used and this work is now used by millions of people within speech and keyboard input applications in Google products.”


Young Scholar candidates are nominated by their academic advisors. Winners are selected by an international panel comprised of engineers from leading universities and companies, and receive a $4000 prize plus expenses to attend the annual awards event. This year’s Young Scholars will be honored at the same event where former Bell Labs chief Arun Netravali, regarded as the “father of digital video,” will receive the $100,000 Marconi Prize, and Stanford Professor Thomas Kailath will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Media Contact:

Hatti Hamlin

About the Marconi Society

Established in 1974 by the daughter of Guglielmo Marconi, the Nobel Laureate who invented radio, the Marconi Society promotes awareness of key technology and policy issues in telecommunications and the Internet, and recognizes significant individual achievements through the Marconi Prize and Young Scholar Awards. More information may be found at www.marconisociety.orgSubscribe. Follow: Twitter and Facebook